When produced properly, this fish is very tasty, definitely not smelly or having the "muddy" taste. As with any fish, if you do not take care of its freshness once harvested, this further affects the taste and smell of the fish. Do not blame the fish but blame it on these types of producers and the consumers who are not interested on taking care of themselves by eating quality food. So to the nay-sayers of the catfish, do not fault the fish if you have had a bad or not so good experience dining on the catfish. I used to be a non-catfish eater but now I enjoy the catfish but of course, only from my farm :).
At the farm, I have spent about 2 years in studying and testing how to produce quality catfish. The key components are the water quality and feed. Flowing water is essential in ensuring that the water quality is good and fish wastes are removed regularly, and that there is sufficient oxygen as in keeping the bacteria in the water down due to wastes. Even if aerators are used to ensure sufficient oxygen but if the water is not regularly refreshed, that the fish will be living in its wastes. Think of it this way, if you are not willing to put your foot into the pond, why are you willing to put what is produced from that pond into your body?
The second component is the feed, Catfish that is fed with bacteria-laden food such as carcasses such as from goat, chicken, and pig, chicken innards, animal and human waste as well as all sorts of garbage will result in lower cost of fish feed which translates to cheaper prices but does not produce tasty fish. After all, the age old axiom that "you are what you eat" can be applied to these catfish. At the farm, the fish is feed with quality fish meal as well as "vegetables" such as tapioca leaves, keladi leaves, young shoots of tebrau and the inner pseudostem of the banana plants. So, it is a matter of choice for the consumers.
When buying catfish, the first thing that you need to check is the underside of the fish. Select catfish that has a white skin on the belly, avoid any fish that has slightly yellow color skin on its belly. The flesh of the catfish should be firm and not "mushy" and the color on the skin of the catfish shouldn't have a greyish pallor - these are indicators of the freshness of the fish. When the flesh is mushy, it is a good indicator that the fish is already well on its decomposition process, faster for fish that have been fed with bacteria-laden feed.
It is always best to buy live catfish or for those that prefer cleaned catfish, catfish that was cleaned after just killing it and frozen within the hour. Of course you would need to know how to handle the catfish when live - watch out for its stingers.
Now that you have the cleaned fish, what can you do with it? In Malay culture, most of the time it is fried to a crisp or made into curries or masak lemak bercili. Sometimes, it is grilled but not often as this requires for the fish to be fresh or you end up with this mushy fish.
From my experience and testing in my farm kitchen, this is a very versatile fish and you can do more than this.
- Whole smoked catfish - the fish is marinated with herbs - either kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass and salt overnight before it is slowly smoked. Once ready, it is stored frozen to retain its "freshness". The smoked catfish can be eaten in many ways - cooked in savoury/spicy dishes or fried or heated and eaten with rice, sticky rice or even in sushi.
- Dried whole salted catfish - the fish is salted and sun-dried. This fish can then be fried or cooked in savoury/spicy dishes.
- Catfish fillet - the fish is fillet resulting in nice pieces of boneless, skinless fillets which can then be cooked in many ways. It can be breaded and baked, dipped in flour and pan-fried, dipped in batter and fried, seasoned with a variety of herbs, lemon, salt and pepper and grilled or pan-fried. The ways of preparing the fillet is limited by your imagination. To produce the fillets, you should select a fish that is at least 800gm so you can get good-sized fillets.